Yesterday (Monday 15 August), BBC Scotland and BBC Disclosure reported the results of an investigation showing people with learning disabilities and autistic people being locked in secure hospitals and psychiatric wards in Scotland for decades.
Through a Freedom of Information request, the BBC found that 15 people had been living in hospital for over 20 years, and at least another 40 people had been in hospital for more than 10 years. This included a person who is still in hospital despite being cleared for release eight years ago.
The BBC reported around 300 people with learning disabilities or autism currently being held in in-patient hospital settings in Scotland. They further reported that nine people with learning disabilities or autism are currently held in Carstairs, Scotland’s only maximum-security psychiatric hospital. The BBC stated that none of those with learning disabilities currently in Carstairs had been convicted of a crime before being moved to the hospital.
The Restraint Reduction Network is concerned by the findings of the BBC investigation. The experiences shared in the report demonstrate the traumatic and distressing impact that long term restrictions and segregation has on the individual and their families. A hospital setting is likely highly unsuitable as a therapeutic or supportive environment, increasing peoples emotional and sensory distress. It is entirely inappropriate for a vulnerable person to be held in a hospital for years, isolated from their family and community, and shows a fundamental failure of the system to provide the necessary support within the community. People should live in homes in the community not in hospitals or institutions.
The Scottish Government’s ‘Same As You?’ report (2009) established the right for everyone with a learning disability to live in their own home and the ‘Coming Home’ report (2017) set out recommendations for supporting individuals with learning disabilities who are currently delayed in hospital-based assessment & treatment units to access support within the community. Yet today’s findings show that these issues have not been suitably addressed and there remains an unacceptable number of people who have been ‘lost in the system.’
Alexis Quinn, Manager of the Restraint Reduction Network states that, “Hospital admission is not an acceptable alternative to support within the community. It is an issue of fundamental human rights, and people with learning disabilities and autistic people have the right to live within their own homes and communities, with access to the right therapeutic support and environments in place.”
The Restraint Reduction Network welcomes the intentions of Mental Health and Social Care Minister Kevin Stewart to introduce a new bill and appointment of a new commissioner to address this ongoing issue. However, we remain concerned that the aim to have ‘most people’ home by March 2024 risks some people being left behind. Action is needed now to uphold the rights of those held in inappropriate settings and pave the way for people to be supported to return to their homes and communities.